Life is so full of surprises, and when I look back to the last five years, I am continuously amazed at how much I have changed; how much the previous chapters of my life do not seem like such, but rather feel like a completely different life.
I’m glad of the changes I have gone through, and no doubt those changes would not have taken place if I hadn’t had to face the challenges that I’ve faced. And though I have many regrets for some of the things I have done that have hurt those around me and myself, I am aware that life cannot be lived without them.
I find myself now in a place where I can appreciate the struggles I’ve been through, not only because I have come through the other end, but also because I’ve come to an understanding of how our hearts can change over time and with practice – an active participation with God’s word, whatever that means.
Since I became a Christian, I have continuously struggled with everything that makes a person a Christian – prayer, Bible study, church and other people. But now I realise that these struggles are a natural part of being human. After all, God decided to rename Jacob ‘Israel’; meaning ‘he struggles with God’.
I noticed that my struggles formed a cycle – my troubles and lack of self-esteem would often result in what I considered to be ‘failing’; I would hurt others or myself through my thoughts and actions. This would not only result in even lower self-esteem, but my feelings of worthlessness and failings led me to wrestle with God too, fuelled by the belief that God was not pleased with me and that I could not be in His Presence.
Throughout this time, I heard repeatedly that we are not saved by our own works; that we are saved by grace. Perhaps it takes a whole life time to even begin to understand that. Perhaps it takes only a life time to realise that “such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalms 139:6). I am only just beginning to understand it.
Science tells us that fear is the most powerful motivator in all we do. Our necessity for a Saviour confirms this. And therein lies our struggle; we are most often too afraid of the things around us to give our whole lives to Him – yet it is fear that led us to need Him in the first place. And did He not tell us to live fearless lives?
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do no be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20
Today’s sermon reminded me of how Jesus died a painful death in the most humiliating way possible; on a hill on a cross where everyone would know and assume – He is a criminal, He deserves this death. But He wasn’t, and He didn’t. Just like the stories we hear of how an innocent is sent to death row – Jesus was much more innocent than anyone can ever be. Imagine dying a death on an electric chair, with everyone believing you are there out of ‘justice’.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” – Philippians 2:5-8
I’ve certainly not led my life according to this description. I value others’ perception of me over furthering God’s kingdom or living by His word. The very word ‘humility’ leads one to expect feelings of humiliation. But, if we truly believe that our identity is firmly embedded within Jesus and His salvation, we may learn to overcome those feelings, because humiliation is merely a reaction to the expectations we hold of others and ourselves.
I’m no implying this is easy or comfortable. What I am trying to say is that our journeys should be one of learning to let go of those expectations and fears, so that we can give way to God’s ways, which are simply “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
My journey is slowly coming into alignment with this. It’s not something that will lead us to perfection – Jesus died for our righteousness, knowing that our imperfection would exclude us permanently from heaven. I don’t understand my fears, but I understand the remedy – it is written within the whole Bible. It is to live as Jesus did, with the same servant attitude as His.
For me, this means giving “a gentle answer [to] turn away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1), but for the person next to me it may mean becoming less of a gossip who “betrays confidence” (Proverbs 11:13). All of God’s ways apply to us all at all times, but by identifying what our major weaknesses are and working on them each moment at a time, we will be sure to cultivate a gentle heart that bears fruit.
Whatever happens, whether good or bad, we are empowered through Jesus to act kindly and look upwards for our hope, rather than to the job we didn’t get, the people who hurt us, or the dreams we were never able to fulfil. After all, what would life be if void of surprises?